Jim Harris is a pretty spry guy for 75. For the past 19 years, the Huntingtown resident has been riding a bicycle to help raise money for those stricken with multiple sclerosis (MS). He shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
‚ÄúI started in 1989,‚ÄĚ Harris said. ‚ÄúI worked for Metro at the time, and I saw an ad on the train that said, ‚Äėhelp find a cure for MS.‚Äô I liked cycling. I‚Äôd had a bicycle ever since I was a kid. I got my first bicycle when I was 12 in 1944. I‚Äôve always had a bike ever since that time.
‚ÄúSo I became an MS bike rider, getting people to commit to so much money in pledges,‚ÄĚ he stated. ‚ÄúIt was a 150-mile cycling trip in two days. Most of the people who contributed were guys I worked with. So from 1989 to 2008 I‚Äôve been doing this thing to try to find a cure for that stinking disease.‚ÄĚ
Harris said that since he began riding, his efforts have taken on a whole new meaning.
‚ÄúWhen I started, I didn‚Äôt know anyone with MS,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThen my brother‚Äôs daughter who was away began having trouble stumbling and losing her balance. When she was diagnosed with MS, that gave me even more impetus to ride. I‚Äôve done it now for 19 years.
‚ÄúEarly on when I started riding for MS, I lived in Prince George‚Äôs County,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been down here for eight years. I have adopted Calvert County as my home. I hope they don‚Äôt mind me doing that.
‚ÄúThe first year they held the race in Anne Arundel County,‚ÄĚ he recalled. ‚ÄúThere were a lot more hills, but then they moved the race to the Eastern Shore, and people would say, ‚Äėyou shouldn‚Äôt have any problems over there, the land is flat.‚Äô But I tell you, the headwinds you encounter will get you. They‚Äôll wear you out. I‚Äôd rather pedal up and down hills than have to face that 25-mile-per-hour headwind for a long stretch. In 19 years, only two years were we plagued with rain. You have to schedule your workouts so far ahead of time. There is no such thing as a rain date.‚ÄĚ
In his 19 years of riding, he has logged in excess of 2,850 miles.
‚ÄúLast year, we had a two-day race on the Eastern Shore, 75 miles a loop, south of Salisbury State University,‚ÄĚ Harris said. ‚ÄúWe stayed overnight at the college, ate right in the college restaurant, they fed us a wonderful breakfast and then we made the second 75-mile loop. We went south one day and north the next day.
‚ÄúI was going through my mail today and I got a letter from MS thanking me for the things I‚Äôve been doing for them,‚ÄĚ he explained. ‚ÄúAt the same time. I get this thing in the mail for Cycle Across Maryland.
‚ÄúI still enjoy it,‚ÄĚ Harris stated. ‚ÄúI retired in 1997. I worked at Metro. I go back and visit the shop I worked in. I get more pledges from my former co-workers‚ÄĒ10 cents a mile, 20 cents a mile‚ÄĒpage after page, it adds up. Since I moved here I‚Äôve gotten pledges from professional people, doctors, dentists, car dealerships, much more than the $15 or $30 in pledges. My goal for fund-raising is $3,000 a year. Last year, I raised $4,270. In the beginning, I always raised at least $1,000. I have a guy who sends me money from his retirement home in Florida. He used to be one of my pledgers from Metro.
MS recently honored Harris for his efforts over the 19 years he has been riding. Out of 700-800 cyclists, he was ranked 13th in the amount of money raised.
‚ÄúBut here‚Äôs the problem,‚ÄĚ he noted. ‚ÄúI was 13th the year before. Somebody else is working harder to get a dollar. So I‚Äôm going to have to work harder. I‚Äôm going to have to start getting into condition for this year‚Äôs ride in June. I don‚Äôt have as much discipline. I have an old bike in the basement that I wore out. I sat it on a contraption so that when the weather isn‚Äôt right I can still ride. The bike I ride in the races is a hybrid. It‚Äôs not a racing bike. It‚Äôs only a four speed. It doesn‚Äôt have wide tires for mountain biking. I do go on trails with it. I‚Äôve done all of the C&O Canal over time. The bicycle will take it.
‚ÄúI figure I‚Äôll keep going until they find a cure or until I can no longer ride 150 miles,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúMy family has been very supportive. I have 14 grandchildren. The last time we were together I had five grandchildren riding with me on the C&O Canal. They‚Äôve since grown up. I cycle more now that I‚Äôm retired than I ever did before. What we‚Äôre doing not only helps to find a cure, but it also helps those stricken to have a better life. We provide them with assets and medicine to help them get through the day. One of these days‚ÄĒI hope it‚Äôs in my lifetime‚ÄĒthey‚Äôll find a cure. I also work in the food pantry and in New Orleans with Emmanuel Church right after the hurricane.‚ÄĚ
One positive aspect of his cycling efforts is that Harris stays in great physical condition.
‚ÄúMy cardiologist,‚ÄĚ Harris laughted, ‚Äúevery time I take a stress test he says, ‚Äėyou‚Äôre in great shape. Whatever you‚Äôre doing, keep doing it.‚Äô Although he did say, ‚Äėfor your age and height, you should weigh about 10 pounds less.‚Äô I say, ‚Äėgo to your room.‚Äô